Israeli airstrikes kill at least 50 in Rafah as displaced people hit

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Rafah, May 26, 2024. REUTERS/Reuters TV

By Nidal Al-Mughrabi Reuters and Agencies

At least 50 people have been killed and dozens more injured by an Israeli airstrike on tents for displaced Palestinians in Rafah, Palestinian health and civil emergency service officials said.

The Israeli military said its air force struck a Hamas compound in Rafah and that the strike was carried out with “precise ammunition and on the basis of precise intelligence.” It took out Hamas’ chief of staff for the West Bank and another senior official behind deadly attacks on Israelis, it said.

“The IDF is aware of reports indicating that as a result of the strike and fire that was ignited several civilians in the area were harmed. The incident is under review.”

The spokesman for the health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza, Ashraf Al-Qidra, said 35 people were killed and dozens others, most of them women and children, were wounded in the attack.

The strike took place in Tel Al-Sultan neighborhood in western Rafah, where thousands of people were taking shelter after many fled the eastern areas of the city where Israeli forces began a ground offensive over two weeks ago.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said its field hospital in Rafah was receiving an influx of casualties, and that other hospitals also were taking in a large number of patients.

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri described the attack in Rafah as a “massacre”, holding the United States responsible for aiding Israel with weapons and money.

“The air strikes burnt the tents, the tents are melting and the people’s bodies are also melting,” said one of the residents who arrived at the Kuwaiti hospital in Rafah.

Earlier on Sunday, the Israeli military said eight projectiles were identified crossing from the area of Rafah, the southern tip of the Gaza Strip where Israel kept up operations despite a ruling by the top U.N. court on Friday ordering it to stop attacking the city.

A number of the projectiles were intercepted, it said. There were no reports of casualties.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was convening his war cabinet later on Sunday to discuss continued operations in Rafah. Israel argues that the U.N. court’s ruling allows room for some military action there.

In a statement on its Telegram channel, the Hamas al-Qassam Brigades said the rockets were launched in response to “Zionist massacres against civilians”.

Rafah is located about 100 km (60 miles) south of Tel Aviv.

Israel says it wants to root out Hamas fighters holed up in Rafah and rescue hostages it says are being held in the area, but its assault has worsened the plight of civilians and caused an international outcry.

On Sunday, Israeli strikes killed at least five Palestinians in Rafah, according to local medical services. The Gaza health ministry identified the dead as civilians.

Israeli tanks have probed around the edges of Rafah, near the crossing point from Gaza into Egypt, and have entered some of its eastern districts, residents say, but have not yet entered the city in force since the start of operations in the city earlier this month.

Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said the rockets fired from Rafah “prove that the (Israel Defense Forces) must operate in every place Hamas still operates from”.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant held an operational assessment in Rafah where he was briefed on “troops’ operations above and below the ground, as well as the deepening of operations in additional areas with the aim of dismantling Hamas battalions”, his office said in a statement.

Itamar Ben Gvir, a hardline public security minister who is not part of Israel’s war cabinet, urged the army to hit Rafah harder. “Rafah with full force,” he posted on X.

Nearly 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s offensive, Gaza’s health ministry says. Israel launched the operation after Hamas-led militants attacked southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Fighting also continued in the northern Gaza area of Jabaliya, the scene of intense combat earlier in the war. During one raid, the military said it found a weapons storage site with dozens of rocket parts and weapons at a school.

It denied Hamas statements that Palestinian fighters had abducted an Israeli soldier.

Hamas media said an Israeli airstrike on a house in a neighborhood near Jabaliya killed 10 people and wounded others.

TRUCE TALKS

Efforts to agree a halt to the fighting and return more than 120 hostages have been blocked for weeks but there were some signs of movement this weekend following meetings between Israeli and U.S. intelligence officials and Qatar’s prime minister.

An official with knowledge of the matter said a decision had been taken to resume the talks this week based on new proposals from Egyptian and Qatari mediators, and with “active U.S. involvement.”

However, a Hamas official played down the report, telling Reuters: “It is not true.”

Netanyahu’s war cabinet would discuss the new proposals, his office said.

A second Hamas official, Izzat El-Reshiq, said the group had not received anything from the mediators on new dates for resuming talks as had been reported by Israeli media.

Reshiq restated Hamas’s demands, which include: “Ending the aggression completely and permanently, in all of Gaza Strip, not only Rafah”.

While Israel is seeking the return of hostages, Netanyahu has repeatedly said the war will not end until Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, is eliminated.

AID TRUCKS ENTER GAZA

Israel has faced calls to get more aid into Gaza after more than seven months of a war that has caused widespread destruction and hunger in the enclave.

Khaled Zayed of the Egyptian Red Crescent told Reuters 200 trucks of aid, including four fuel trucks, were expected to enter Gaza on Sunday through Kerem Shalom.

It follows an agreement between U.S. President Joe Biden and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Friday to temporarily send aid via the Kerem Shalom crossing, bypassing the Rafah crossing that has been blocked for weeks.

Egypt’s state-affiliated Al Qahera News TV shared a video on social media platform X, showing what it said were aid trucks as they entered Kerem Shalom, which before the conflict was the main commercial crossing station between Israel, Egypt and Gaza.

The Rafah crossing has been shut for almost three weeks, since Israel took control of the Palestinian side of the crossing as it stepped up its offensive.

Egypt has been increasingly alarmed at the prospect of large numbers of Palestinians entering its territory from Gaza and has refused to open its side of the Rafah crossing.

Israel has said it is not restricting aid flows and has opened up new crossing points in the north as well as cooperating with the United States, which has built a temporary floating pier for aid deliveries.

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